• Let-7c inhibits cholangiocarcinoma growth but promotes tumor cell invasion and growth at extrahepatic sites.

      Xie, Yu; Zhang, Hang; Guo, Xing-Jun; Feng, Ye-Chen; He, Rui-Zhi; Li, Xu; Yu, Shuo; Zhao, Yan; Shen, Ming; Zhu, Feng; et al. (Springer Nature, 2018-02-14)
      Cholangiocarcinoma (CCA) is a cancer type with high postoperative relapse rates and poor long-term survival largely due to tumor invasion, distant metastasis, and multidrug resistance. Deregulated microRNAs (miRNAs) are implicated in several cancer types including CCA. The specific roles of the miRNA let-7c in cholangiocarcinoma are not known and need to be further elucidated. In our translational study we show that microRNA let-7c expression was significantly downregulated in human cholangiocarcinoma tissues when compared to adjacent tissues of the same patient. Let-7c inhibited the tumorigenic properties of cholangiocarcinoma cells including their self-renewal capacity and sphere formation in vitro and subcutaneous cancer cell growth in vivo. Ectopic let-7c overexpression suppressed migration and invasion capacities of cholangiocarcinoma cell lines in vitro, however, promoted distant invasiveness in vivo. Furthermore, we found that let-7c regulated the aforementioned malignant biological properties, at least in part, through regulation of EZH2 protein expression and through the DVL3/β-catenin axis. The miRNA let-7c thus plays an important dual role in regulating tumorigenic and metastatic abilities of human cholangiocarcinoma through mechanisms involving EZH2 protein and the DVL3/β-catenin axis.
    • MicroRNA-125b-5p Regulates Hepatocyte Proliferation During the Termination Phase of Liver Regeneration.

      Yang, Dakai; Dai, Zhen; Yang, Taihua; Balakrishnan, Asha; Yuan, Qinggong; Vondran, Florian W R; Manns, Michael P; Ott, Michael; Cantz, Tobias; Sharma, Amar Deep; et al. (Wiley, 2020-09-15)
      The ability of the liver to regenerate and restore mass limits the increasing mortality rate due to life-threatening liver diseases. Successful liver regeneration is accomplished in multiple stages, of which the priming and proliferation phases are well studied. However, the regulatory pathways, specifically microRNA (miRNA)-mediated posttranscriptional regulation, which prevent uncontrolled proliferation and mediate the termination of liver regeneration, are not well understood. We identified differentially regulated miRNAs during the termination phase after 2/3 partial hepatectomy (PH) in mice, which is a well-established mouse model of liver regeneration. We further evaluated the function of differentially regulated miRNAs in primary mouse hepatocytes by using mimics and inhibitors and in vivo by using adeno-associated virus (AAV) serotype 8. A candidate miRNA target was identified by messenger RNA array in silico analyses and validated in primary mouse and human hepatocytes. Using miRNA profiling, we discovered miR-125b-5p as a novel regulator of hepatocyte proliferation in the late phase of liver regeneration. AAV-mediated miR-125b-5p delivery in mice enhanced the endogenous regenerative capacity and resulted in improved restoration of liver mass after 2/3 PH. Further, we found that ankyrin repeat and BTB/POZ domain containing protein 1 (Abtb1) is a direct target of miR-125b-5p in primary mouse and human hepatocytes and contributes to the pro-proliferative activity of miR-125b-5p by forkhead box G1 (FOXG1) and the cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor 1A (p21) pathway. Conclusion: miR-125b-5p has an important role in regulating hepatocyte proliferation in the termination phase of liver regeneration and may serve as a potential therapeutic target in various liver diseases that often exhibit deregulated hepatocyte proliferation.
    • MicroRNA-221: A Fine Tuner and Potential Biomarker of Chronic Liver Injury.

      Markovic, Jovana; Sharma, Amar Deep; Balakrishnan, Asha; HZI,Helmholtz-Zentrum für Infektionsforschung GmbH, Inhoffenstr. 7,38124 Braunschweig, Germany. (MDPI, 2020-07-23)
      The last decade has witnessed significant advancements in our understanding of how small noncoding RNAs, such as microRNAs (miRNAs), regulate disease progression. One such miRNA, miR-221, has been shown to play a key role in the progression of liver fibrosis, a common feature of most liver diseases. Many reports have demonstrated the upregulation of miR-221 in liver fibrosis caused by multiple etiologies such as viral infections and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis. Inhibition of miR-221 via different strategies has shown promising results in terms of the suppression of fibrogenic gene signatures in vitro, as well as in vivo, in independent mouse models of liver fibrosis. In addition, miR-221 has also been suggested as a noninvasive serum biomarker for liver fibrosis and cirrhosis. In this review, we discuss the biology of miR-221, its significance and use as a biomarker during progression of liver fibrosis, and finally, potential and robust approaches that can be utilized to suppress liver fibrosis via inhibition of miR-221.
    • MicroRNA-342-3p is a potent tumour suppressor in hepatocellular carcinoma

      Komoll, Ronja Melinda; Hu, Qingluan; Olarewaju, Olaniyi; von Döhlen, Lena; Yuan, Qinggong; Xie, Yu; Tsay, Hsin Chieh; Daon, Joel; Qin, Renyi; Manns, Michael P; et al. (2021-01-01)
      Background & aims: Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is a cancer with multiple aetiologies and widespread prevalence. Largely refractory to current treatments, HCC is the fourth leading cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are important regulators in HCCs. We aimed to identify tumour suppressor miRNAs during tumour regression in a conditional c-MYC-driven mouse model (LT2/MYC) of HCC, and to evaluate their therapeutic potential for HCC treatment. Methods: We performed miRNA expression profiling of developed and regressing LT2/MYC tumours and in-depth in vitro gain- and loss-of-function analyses. The effect of adeno-associated virus (AAV) vector-mediated miR-342-3p treatment was evaluated in 3 HCC mouse models. Results: We identified miR-342-3p as a tumour suppressor miRNA in HCC, with increased expression in regressing tumours. Forced miR-342-3p expression in hepatoma cells showed significantly decreased cell proliferation, migration, and colony formation. In vivo administration of AAV-miR-342-3p led to significant attenuation of tumour development and increased overall survival. We identified monocarboxylic acid transporter 1 (MCT1) as a bona fide target of miR-342-3p in HCC. We show that the tumour suppressor role of miR-342-3p is executed partly by modulating the lactate transport function of MCT1. Importantly, we find miR-342-3p downregulated in tumours from patients with HCC compared with matched non-tumour tissues, inversely correlating with MCT1 expression. We observed similar findings in TCGA-LIHC data. Conclusions: In our study, we identified and validated miR-342-3p as a tumour suppressor miRNA in HCC. We demonstrated its therapeutic efficacy in significantly attenuating tumour development, and prolonging survival, in different HCC mouse models. Identification of miR-342-3p as an effective tumour suppressor opens a therapeutic avenue for miRNA-mediated attenuation of HCC development. Lay summary: Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), the most common type of liver cancer, affects diverse populations and has a global impact, being the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide. There are currently no systemic therapies for HCC that can significantly prolong long-term survival. Thus, novel effective treatment options are urgently required. To understand the molecular basis of tumour regression, we compared tumours and regressing liver tumours in mice. We show that a small non-coding miRNA, miR-342-3p, is a tumour suppressor in HCC. Expression of miR-342-3p is low in tumours and high in regressing tumours. When miR-342-3p is delivered to mouse livers with HCC, it can significantly slow down liver tumour development and improve survival. Our study highlights the promising therapeutic potential of miR-342-3p intervention in HCC.
    • NeutrobodyPlex-monitoring SARS-CoV-2 neutralizing immune responses using nanobodies.

      Wagner, Teresa R; Ostertag, Elena; Kaiser, Philipp D; Gramlich, Marius; Ruetalo, Natalia; Junker, Daniel; Haering, Julia; Traenkle, Bjoern; Becker, Matthias; Dulovic, Alex; et al. (EMBO Press, 2021-04-27)
      In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is an ongoing need for diagnostic tools to monitor the immune status of large patient cohorts and the effectiveness of vaccination campaigns. Here, we present 11 unique nanobodies (Nbs) specific for the SARS-CoV-2 spike receptor-binding domain (RBD), of which 8 Nbs potently inhibit the interaction of RBD with angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) as the major viral docking site. Following detailed epitope mapping and structural analysis, we select two inhibitory Nbs, one of which binds an epitope inside and one of which binds an epitope outside the RBD:ACE2 interface. Based on these, we generate a biparatopic nanobody (bipNb) with viral neutralization efficacy in the picomolar range. Using bipNb as a surrogate, we establish a competitive multiplex binding assay ("NeutrobodyPlex") for detailed analysis of the presence and performance of neutralizing RBD-binding antibodies in serum of convalescent or vaccinated patients. We demonstrate that NeutrobodyPlex enables high-throughput screening and detailed analysis of neutralizing immune responses in infected or vaccinated individuals, to monitor immune status or to guide vaccine design.
    • Notch and TLR signaling coordinate monocyte cell fate and inflammation.

      Gamrekelashvili, Jaba; Kapanadze, Tamar; Sablotny, Stefan; Ratiu, Corina; Dastagir, Khaled; Lochner, Matthias; Karbach, Susanne; Wenzel, Philip; Sitnow, Andre; Fleig, Susanne; et al. (elife Sciences, 2020-07-29)
      Conventional Ly6Chi monocytes have developmental plasticity for a spectrum of differentiated phagocytes. Here we show, using conditional deletion strategies in a mouse model of Toll-like receptor (TLR) 7-induced inflammation, that the spectrum of developmental cell fates of Ly6Chi monocytes, and the resultant inflammation, is coordinately regulated by TLR and Notch signaling. Cell-intrinsic Notch2 and TLR7-Myd88 pathways independently and synergistically promote Ly6Clo patrolling monocyte development from Ly6Chi monocytes under inflammatory conditions, while impairment in either signaling axis impairs Ly6Clo monocyte development. At the same time, TLR7 stimulation in the absence of functional Notch2 signaling promotes resident tissue macrophage gene expression signatures in monocytes in the blood and ectopic differentiation of Ly6Chi monocytes into macrophages and dendritic cells, which infiltrate the spleen and major blood vessels and are accompanied by aberrant systemic inflammation. Thus, Notch2 is a master regulator of Ly6Chi monocyte cell fate and inflammation in response to TLR signaling.
    • Parasites in brains of wild rodents (Arvicolinae and Murinae) in the city of Leipzig, Germany

      Waindok, Patrick; Özbakış-Beceriklisoy, Gökben; Janecek-Erfurth, Elisabeth; Springer, Andrea; Pfeffer, Martin; Leschnik, Michael; Strube, Christina; TWINCORE, Zentrum für experimentelle und klinische Infektionsforschung GmbH,Feodor-Lynen Str. 7, 30625 Hannover, Germany. (Elsevier, 2019-12-01)
      Small rodents serve as intermediate or paratenic hosts for a variety of parasites and may participate in thetransmission of these parasites into synanthropic cycles. Parasites with neuroinvasive stages, such asToxoplasmagondiiorToxocara canis, can cause detrimental damage in the brain of intermediate or paratenic hosts.Therefore, the occurrence of neuroinvasive parasite stages was evaluated in brains of wild rodents captured inthe city of Leipzig, Germany. In addition, a few specimens from the cities of Hanover, Germany, and Vienna,Austria were included, resulting in a total of 716 rodents collected between 2011 and 2016. Brains were in-vestigated for parasitic stages by microscopic examination of native tissue, artificially digested tissue as well asGiemsa-stained digestion solution to verify positive results. Infective stages of zoonotic ascarids or other hel-minths were not detected in any sample, while coccidian cysts were found in 10.1% (95% CI: 7.9–12.5%; 72/716) of examined brains. The most abundant rodent species in the study was the bank vole (Myodes glareolus;Arvicolinae), showing an infection rate with cerebral cysts of 13.9% (95% CI: 11.0–17.8%; 62/445), while 2.7%(95% CI: 1.0–5.8%; 6/222) of yellow-necked mice (Apodemusflavicollis; Murinae) were infected. Generalizedlinear modelling revealed a statistically significant difference in prevalence betweenM. glareolusandA.flavi-collis, significant local differences as well as an effect of increasing body mass on cyst prevalence. Coccidian cystswere differentiated by amplification of the18S rRNAgene and subsequent sequencing. The majority of iden-tifiable cysts (97.9%) were determined asFrenkelia glareoli, a coccidian species mainly circulating betweenM.glareolusas intermediate and buzzards (Buteospp.) as definitive hosts. The zoonotic pathogenToxoplasma gondiiwas confirmed in oneM. glareolusoriginating from the city of Leipzig. Overall, it can be concluded that neu-roinvasion of zoonotic parasites seems to be rare inM. glareolusandA.flavicollis.
    • Pathological mechanism and antisense oligonucleotide-mediated rescue of a non-coding variant suppressing factor 9 RNA biogenesis leading to hemophilia B.

      Krooss, Simon; Werwitzke, Sonja; Kopp, Johannes; Rovai, Alice; Varnholt, Dirk; Wachs, Amelie S; Goyenvalle, Aurelie; Aarstma-Rus, Annemieke; Ott, Michael; Tiede, Andreas; et al. (PLOS, 2020-04-08)
      Loss-of-function mutations in the human coagulation factor 9 (F9) gene lead to hemophilia B. Here, we dissected the consequences and the pathomechanism of a non-coding mutation (c.2545A>G) in the F9 3' untranslated region. Using wild type and mutant factor IX (FIX) minigenes we revealed that the mutation leads to reduced F9 mRNA and FIX protein levels and to lower coagulation activity of cell culture supernatants. The phenotype could not be compensated by increased transcription. The pathomechanism comprises the de novo creation of a binding site for the spliceosomal component U1snRNP, which is able to suppress the nearby F9 poly(A) site. This second, splicing-independent function of U1snRNP was discovered previously and blockade of U1snRNP restored mutant F9 mRNA expression. In addition, we explored the vice versa approach and masked the mutation by antisense oligonucleotides resulting in significantly increased F9 mRNA expression and coagulation activity. This treatment may transform the moderate/severe hemophilia B into a mild or subclinical form in the patients. This antisense based strategy is applicable to other mutations in untranslated regions creating deleterious binding sites for cellular proteins.
    • Regulatory T Cells in an Endogenous Mouse Lymphoma Recognize Specific Antigen Peptides and Contribute to Immune Escape.

      Ahmetlić, Fatima; Riedel, Tanja; Hömberg, Nadine; Bauer, Vera; Trautwein, Nico; Geishauser, Albert; Sparwasser, Tim; Stevanović, Stefan; Röcken, Martin; Mocikat, Ralph; et al. (American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), 2019-03-20)
      Foxp3+ regulatory T cells (Tregs) sustain immune homeostasis and may contribute to immune escape in malignant disease. As a prerequisite for developing immunologic approaches in cancer therapy, it is necessary to understand the ontogeny and the antigenic specificities of tumor-infiltrating Tregs. We addressed this question by using a λ-MYC transgenic mouse model of endogenously arising B-cell lymphoma, which mirrors key features of human Burkitt lymphoma. We show that Foxp3+ Tregs suppress antitumor responses in endogenous lymphoma. Ablation of Foxp3+ Tregs significantly delayed tumor development. The ratio of Treg to effector T cells was elevated in growing tumors, which could be ascribed to differential proliferation. The Tregs detected were mainly natural Tregs that apparently recognized self-antigens. We identified MHC class II-restricted nonmutated self-epitopes, which were more prevalent in lymphoma than in normal B cells and could be recognized by Tregs. These epitopes were derived from proteins that are associated with cellular processes related to malignancy and may be overexpressed in the tumor.
    • The role of epigenetics in the development of childhood asthma.

      Qi, Cancan; Xu, Cheng-Jian; Koppelman, Gerard H; TWINCORE, Zentrum für experimentelle und klinische Infektionsforschung GmbH,Feodor-Lynen Str. 7, 30625 Hannover, Germany. (2019-11-10)
      Introduction: The development of childhood asthma is caused by a combination of genetic factors and environmental exposures. Epigenetics describes mechanisms of (heritable) regulation of gene expression that occur without changes in DNA sequence. Epigenetics is strongly related to aging, is cell-type specific, and includes DNA methylation, noncoding RNAs, and histone modifications.Areas covered: This review summarizes recent epigenetic studies of childhood asthma in humans, which mostly involve studies of DNA methylation published in the recent five years. Environmental exposures, in particular cigarette smoking, have significant impact on epigenetic changes, but few of these epigenetic signals are also associated with asthma. Several asthma-associated genetic variants relate to DNA methylation. Epigenetic signals can be better understood by studying their correlation with gene expression, which revealed higher presence and activation of blood eosinophils in asthma. Strong associations of nasal methylation signatures and atopic asthma were identified, which were replicable across different populations.Expert commentary: Epigenetic markers have been strongly associated with asthma, and might serve as biomarker of asthma. The causal and longitudinal relationships between epigenetics and disease, and between environmental exposures and epigenetic changes need to be further investigated. Efforts should be made to understand cell-type-specific epigenetic mechanisms in asthma.
    • Selective Host Cell Death by Staphylococcus aureus : A Strategy for Bacterial Persistence.

      Missiakas, Dominique; Winstel, Volker; TWINCORE, Zentrum für experimentelle und klinische Infektionsforschung GmbH,Feodor-Lynen Str. 7, 30625 Hannover, Germany. (Frontiers, 2021-01-21)
      Host cell death programs are fundamental processes that shape cellular homeostasis, embryonic development, and tissue regeneration. Death signaling and downstream host cell responses are not only critical to guide mammalian development, they often act as terminal responses to invading pathogens. Here, we briefly review and contrast how invading pathogens and specifically Staphylococcus aureus manipulate apoptotic, necroptotic, and pyroptotic cell death modes to establish infection. Rather than invading host cells, S. aureus subverts these cells to produce diffusible molecules that cause death of neighboring hematopoietic cells and thus shapes an immune environment conducive to persistence. The exploitation of cell death pathways by S. aureus is yet another virulence strategy that must be juxtaposed to mechanisms of immune evasion, autophagy escape, and tolerance to intracellular killing, and brings us closer to the true portrait of this pathogen for the design of effective therapeutics and intervention strategies.
    • Sialylation Is Dispensable for Early Murine Embryonic Development in Vitro.

      Abeln, Markus; Borst, Kristina M; Cajic, Samanta; Thiesler, Hauke; Kats, Elina; Albers, Iris; Kuhn, Maike; Kaever, Volkhard; Rapp, Erdmann; Münster-Kühnel, Anja; et al. (2017-07-04)
      The negatively charged nonulose sialic acid (Sia) is essential for murine development in vivo. In order to elucidate the impact of sialylation on differentiation processes in the absence of maternal influences, we generated mouse embryonic stem cell (mESC) lines that lack CMP-Sia synthetase (CMAS) and thereby the ability to activate Sia to CMP-Sia. Loss of CMAS activity resulted in an asialo cell surface accompanied by an increase in glycoconjugates with terminal galactosyl and oligo-LacNAc residues, as well as intracellular accumulation of free Sia. Remarkably, these changes did not impact intracellular metabolites or the morphology and transcriptome of pluripotent mESC lines. Moreover, the capacity of Cmas
    • Staphylococcus aureus Alpha-Toxin Limits Type 1 While Fostering Type 3 Immune Responses.

      Bonifacius, Agnes; Goldmann, Oliver; Floess, Stefan; Holtfreter, Silva; Robert, Philippe A; Nordengrün, Maria; Kruse, Friederike; Lochner, Matthias; Falk, Christine S; Schmitz, Ingo; et al. (Frontiers, 2020-08-07)
      Staphylococcus aureus can cause life-threatening diseases, and hospital- as well as community-associated antibiotic-resistant strains are an emerging global public health problem. Therefore, prophylactic vaccines or immune-based therapies are considered as alternative treatment opportunities. To develop such novel treatment approaches, a better understanding of the bacterial virulence and immune evasion mechanisms and their potential effects on immune-based therapies is essential. One important staphylococcal virulence factor is alpha-toxin, which is able to disrupt the epithelial barrier in order to establish infection. In addition, alpha-toxin has been reported to modulate other cell types including immune cells. Since CD4+ T cell-mediated immunity is required for protection against S. aureus infection, we were interested in the ability of alpha-toxin to directly modulate CD4+ T cells. To address this, murine naïve CD4+ T cells were differentiated in vitro into effector T cell subsets in the presence of alpha-toxin. Interestingly, alpha-toxin induced death of Th1-polarized cells, while cells polarized under Th17 conditions showed a high resistance toward increasing concentrations of this toxin. These effects could neither be explained by differential expression of the cellular alpha-toxin receptor ADAM10 nor by differential activation of caspases, but might result from an increased susceptibility of Th1 cells toward Ca2+-mediated activation-induced cell death. In accordance with the in vitro findings, an alpha-toxin-dependent decrease of Th1 and concomitant increase of Th17 cells was observed in vivo during S. aureus bacteremia. Interestingly, corresponding subsets of innate lymphoid cells and γδ T cells were similarly affected, suggesting a more general effect of alpha-toxin on the modulation of type 1 and type 3 immune responses. In conclusion, we have identified a novel alpha-toxin-dependent immunomodulatory strategy of S. aureus, which can directly act on CD4+ T cells and might be exploited for the development of novel immune-based therapeutic approaches to treat infections with antibiotic-resistant S. aureus strains.
    • Staphylococcus epidermidis Phages Transduce Antimicrobial Resistance Plasmids and Mobilize Chromosomal Islands.

      Fišarová, Lenka; Botka, Tibor; Du, Xin; Mašlaňová, Ivana; Bárdy, Pavol; Pantůček, Roman; Benešík, Martin; Roudnický, Pavel; Winstel, Volker; Larsen, Jesper; et al. (American Society of Microbiology, 2021-05-12)
      Staphylococcus epidermidis is a leading opportunistic pathogen causing nosocomial infections that is notable for its ability to form a biofilm and for its high rates of antibiotic resistance. It serves as a reservoir of multiple antimicrobial resistance genes that spread among the staphylococcal population by horizontal gene transfer such as transduction. While phage-mediated transduction is well studied in Staphylococcus aureus, S. epidermidis transducing phages have not been described in detail yet. Here, we report the characteristics of four phages, 27, 48, 456, and 459, previously used for S. epidermidis phage typing, and the newly isolated phage E72, from a clinical S. epidermidis strain. The phages, classified in the family Siphoviridae and genus Phietavirus, exhibited an S. epidermidis-specific host range, and together they infected 49% of the 35 strains tested. A whole-genome comparison revealed evolutionary relatedness to transducing S. aureus phietaviruses. In accordance with this, all the tested phages were capable of transduction with high frequencies up to 10-4 among S. epidermidis strains from different clonal complexes. Plasmids with sizes from 4 to 19 kb encoding resistance to streptomycin, tetracycline, and chloramphenicol were transferred. We provide here the first evidence of a phage-inducible chromosomal island transfer in S. epidermidis Similarly to S. aureus pathogenicity islands, the transfer was accompanied by phage capsid remodeling; however, the interfering protein encoded by the island was distinct. Our findings underline the role of S. epidermidis temperate phages in the evolution of S. epidermidis strains by horizontal gene transfer, which can also be utilized for S. epidermidis genetic studies.IMPORTANCE Multidrug-resistant strains of S. epidermidis emerge in both nosocomial and livestock environments as the most important pathogens among coagulase-negative staphylococcal species. The study of transduction by phages is essential to understanding how virulence and antimicrobial resistance genes spread in originally commensal bacterial populations. In this work, we provide a detailed description of transducing S. epidermidis phages. The high transduction frequencies of antimicrobial resistance plasmids and the first evidence of chromosomal island transfer emphasize the decisive role of S. epidermidis phages in attaining a higher pathogenic potential of host strains. To date, such importance has been attributed only to S. aureus phages, not to those of coagulase-negative staphylococci. This study also proved that the described transducing bacteriophages represent valuable genetic modification tools in S. epidermidis strains where other methods for gene transfer fail.
    • Strategic Anti-SARS-CoV-2 Serology Testing in a Low Prevalence Setting: The COVID-19 Contact (CoCo) Study in Healthcare Professionals.

      Behrens, Georg M N; Cossmann, Anne; Stankov, Metodi V; Schulte, Bianca; Streeck, Hendrik; Förster, Reinhold; Bosnjak, Berislav; Willenzon, Stefanie; Boeck, Anna-Lena; Thu Tran, Anh; et al. (Springer Healthcare, 2020-09-04)
      Background: Serology testing is explored for epidemiological research and to inform individuals after suspected infection. During the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, frontline healthcare professionals (HCP) may be at particular risk for infection. No longitudinal data on functional seroconversion in HCP in regions with low COVID-19 prevalence and low pre-test probability exist. Methods: In a large German university hospital, we performed weekly questionnaire assessments and anti-severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) immunoglobulin G (IgG) measurements with various commercial tests, a novel surrogate virus neutralisation test, and a neutralisation assay using live SARS-CoV-2. Results: From baseline to week 6, 1080 screening measurements for anti-SARS CoV-2 (S1) IgG from 217 frontline HCP (65% female) were performed. Overall, 75.6% of HCP reported at least one symptom of respiratory infection. Self-perceived infection probability declined over time (from mean 20.1% at baseline to 12.4% in week 6, p < 0.001). In sera of convalescent patients with PCR-confirmed COVID-19, we measured high anti-SARS-CoV-2 IgG levels, obtained highly concordant results from enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISA) using e.g. the spike 1 (S1) protein domain and the nucleocapsid protein (NCP) as targets, and confirmed antiviral neutralisation. However, in HCP the cumulative incidence for anti-SARS-CoV-2 (S1) IgG was 1.86% for positive and 0.93% for equivocal positive results over the study period of 6 weeks. Except for one HCP, none of the eight initial positive results were confirmed by alternative serology tests or showed in vitro neutralisation against live SARS-CoV-2. The only true seroconversion occurred without symptoms and mounted strong functional humoral immunity. Thus, the confirmed cumulative incidence for neutralizing anti-SARS-CoV-2 IgG was 0.47%. Conclusion: When assessing anti-SARS-CoV-2 immune status in individuals with low pre-test probability, we suggest confirming positive results from single measurements by alternative serology tests or functional assays. Our data highlight the need for a methodical serology screening approach in regions with low SARS-CoV-2 infection rates.
    • Structure-Activity Relationship and Mode-of-Action Studies Highlight 1-(4-Biphenylylmethyl)-1H-imidazole-Derived Small Molecules as Potent CYP121 Inhibitors.

      Walter, Isabell; Adam, Sebastian; Gentilini, Maria Virginia; Kany, Andreas M; Brengel, Christian; Thomann, Andreas; Sparwasser, Tim; Köhnke, Jesko; Hartmann, Rolf W; HIPS, Helmholtz-Institut für Pharmazeutische Forschung Saarland, Universitätscampus E8.1 66123 Saarbrücken, Germany.; TWINCORE, Zentrum für experimentelle und klinische Infektionsforschung GmbH,Feodor-Lynen Str. 7, 30625 Hannover, Germany. (Wiley-VCH, 2021-05-19)
      CYP121 of Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb) is an essential target for the development of novel potent drugs against tuberculosis (TB). Besides known antifungal azoles, further compounds of the azole class were recently identified as CYP121 inhibitors with antimycobacterial activity. Herein, we report the screening of a similarity-oriented library based on the former hit compound, the evaluation of affinity toward CYP121, and activity against M. bovis BCG. The results enabled a comprehensive SAR study, which was extended through the synthesis of promising compounds and led to the identification of favorable features for affinity and/or activity and hit compounds with 2.7-fold improved potency. Mode of action studies show that the hit compounds inhibit substrate conversion and highlighted CYP121 as the main antimycobacterial target of our compounds. Exemplified complex crystal structures of CYP121 with three inhibitors reveal a common binding site. Engaging in both hydrophobic interactions as well as hydrogen bonding to the sixth iron ligand, our compounds block a solvent channel leading to the active site heme. Additionally, we report the first CYP inhibitors that are able to reduce the intracellular replication of M. bovis BCG in macrophages, emphasizing their potential as future drug candidates against TB.
    • Targeting Antigens to Dendritic Cells the DC-Specific-ICAM3-Grabbing-Nonintegrin Receptor Induces Strong T-Helper 1 Immune Responses.

      Velasquez, Lis Noelia; Stüve, Philipp; Gentilini, Maria Virginia; Swallow, Maxine; Bartel, Judith; Lycke, Nils Yngve; Barkan, Daniel; Martina, Mariana; Lujan, Hugo D; Kalay, Hakan; et al. (2018-01-01)
      Tuberculosis remains a major global health problem and efforts to develop a more effective vaccine have been unsuccessful so far. Targeting antigens (Ags) to dendritic cells (DCs) in vivo has emerged as a new promising vaccine strategy. In this approach, Ags are delivered directly to DCs via antibodies that bind to endocytic cell-surface receptors. Here, we explored DC-specifc-ICAM3-grabbing-nonintegrin (DC-SIGN) targeting as a potential vaccine against tuberculosis. For this, we made use of the hSIGN mouse model that expresses human DC-SIGN under the control of the murine CD11c promoter. We show that in vitro and in vivo delivery of anti-DC-SIGN antibodies conjugated to Ag85B and peptide 25 of Ag85B in combination with anti-CD40, the fungal cell wall component zymosan, and the cholera toxin-derived fusion protein CTA1-DD induces strong Ag-specifc CD4+ T-cell responses. Improved anti-mycobacterial immunity was accompanied by increased frequencies of Ag-specifc IFN-γ+ IL-2+ TNF-α+ polyfunctional CD4+ T cells in vaccinated mice compared with controls. Taken together, in this study we provide the proof of concept that the human DC-SIGN receptor can be effciently exploited for vaccine purposes to promote immunity against mycobacterial infections.
    • TGFβ-activation by dendritic cells drives Th17 induction and intestinal contractility and augments the expulsion of the parasite Trichinella spiralis in mice.

      Steel, Nicola; Faniyi, Aduragbemi A; Rahman, Sayema; Swietlik, Stefanie; Czajkowska, Beata I; Chan, Bethany T; Hardgrave, Alexander; Steel, Anthony; Sparwasser, Tim D; Assas, Mushref B; et al. (PLOS, 2019-01-01)
      Helminths are highly prevalent metazoan parasites that infect over a billion of the world’s population. Hosts have evolved numerous mechanisms to drive the expulsion of these parasites via Th2-driven immunity, but these responses must be tightly controlled to prevent equally devastating immunopathology. However, mechanisms that regulate this balance are still unclear. Here we show that the vigorous Th2 immune response driven by the small intestinal helminth Trichinella spiralis, is associated with increased TGFβ signalling responses in CD4+ T-cells. Mechanistically, enhanced TGFβ signalling in CD4+ T-cells is dependent on dendritic cell-mediated TGFβ activation which requires expression of the integrin αvβ8. Importantly, mice lacking integrin αvβ8 on DCs had a delayed ability to expel a T. spiralis infection, indicating an important functional role for integrin αvβ8-mediated TGFβ activation in promoting parasite expulsion. In addition to maintaining regulatory T-cell responses, the CD4+ T-cell signalling of this pleiotropic cytokine induces a Th17 response which is crucial in promoting the intestinal muscle hypercontractility that drives worm expulsion. Collectively, these results provide novel insights into intestinal helminth expulsion beyond that of classical Th2 driven immunity, and highlight the importance of IL-17 in intestinal contraction which may aid therapeutics to numerous diseases of the intestine.
    • Therapeutic HNF4A mRNA attenuates liver fibrosis in a preclinical model.

      Yang, Taihua; Poenisch, Marion; Khanal, Rajendra; Hu, Qingluan; Dai, Zhen; Li, Ruomeng; Song, Guangqi; Yuan, Qinggong; Yao, Qunyan; Shen, Xizhong; et al. (Elsevier, 2021-08-25)
      Background & aims: Therapeutic targeting of injuries that require transient restoration of proteins by mRNA delivery is an attractive approach that, until recently, has remained poorly explored. In this study, we examined the therapeutic utility of mRNA delivery for liver fibrosis and cirrhosis. Specifically, we aimed to demonstrate the therapeutic efficacy of human hepatocyte nuclear factor alpha (HNF4A) mRNA in mouse models of fibrosis and cirrhosis. Methods: We investigated restoration of hepatocyte functions by HNF4A mRNA transfection in vitro, and analyzed the attenuation of liver fibrosis and cirrhosis in multiple mouse models, by delivering hepatocyte-targeted biodegradable lipid nanoparticles (LNPs) encapsulating HNF4A mRNA. To identify potential mechanisms of action, we performed microarray-based gene expression profiling, single-cell RNA sequencing, and chromatin immunoprecipitation. We used primary liver cells and human liver buds for additional functional validation. Results: Expression of HNF4A mRNA led to restoration of the metabolic activity of fibrotic primary murine and human hepatocytes in vitro. Repeated in vivo delivery of LNP-encapsulated HNF4A mRNA induced a robust inhibition of fibrogenesis in 4 independent mouse models of hepatotoxin- and cholestasis-induced liver fibrosis. Mechanistically, we discovered that paraoxonase 1 is a direct target of HNF4A and it contributes to HNF4A-mediated attenuation of liver fibrosis via modulation of liver macrophages and hepatic stellate cells. Conclusion: Collectively, our findings provide the first direct preclinical evidence of the applicability of HNF4A mRNA therapeutics for the treatment of fibrosis in the liver. Lay summary: Liver fibrosis and cirrhosis remain unmet medical needs and contribute to high mortality worldwide. Herein, we take advantage of a promising therapeutic approach to treat liver fibrosis and cirrhosis. We demonstrate that restoration of a key gene, HNF4A, via mRNA encapsulated in lipid nanoparticles decreased injury in multiple mouse models of fibrosis and cirrhosis. Our study provides proof-of-concept that mRNA therapy is a promising strategy for reversing liver fibrosis and cirrhosis.
    • TLR4 abrogates the Th1 immune response through IRF1 and IFN-β to prevent immunopathology during L. infantum infection.

      Sacramento, Laís Amorim; Benevides, Luciana; Maruyama, Sandra Regina; Tavares, Lucas; Fukutani, Kiyoshi Ferreira; Francozo, Marcela; Sparwasser, Tim; Cunha, Fernando Queiroz; Almeida, Roque Pacheco; da Silva, João Santana; et al. (PLOS, 2020-03-25)
      A striking feature of human visceral leishmaniasis (VL) is chronic inflammation in the spleen and liver, and VL patients present increased production levels of multiple inflammatory mediators, which contribute to tissue damage and disease severity. Here, we combined an experimental model with the transcriptional profile of human VL to demonstrate that the TLR4-IFN-β pathway regulates the chronic inflammatory process and is associated with the asymptomatic form of the disease. Tlr4-deficient mice harbored fewer parasites in their spleen and liver than wild-type mice. TLR4 deficiency enhanced the Th1 immune response against the parasite, which was correlated with an increased activation of dendritic cells (DCs). Gene expression analyses demonstrated that IRF1 and IFN-β were expressed downstream of TLR4 after infection. Accordingly, IRF1- and IFNAR-deficient mice harbored fewer parasites in the target organs than wild-type mice due to having an increased Th1 immune response. However, the absence of TLR4 or IFNAR increased the serum transaminase levels in infected mice, indicating the presence of liver damage in these animals. In addition, IFN-β limits IFN-γ production by acting directly on Th1 cells. Using RNA sequencing analysis of human samples, we demonstrated that the transcriptional signature for the TLR4 and type I IFN (IFN-I) pathways was positively modulated in asymptomatic subjects compared with VL patients and thus provide direct evidence demonstrating that the TLR4-IFN-I pathway is related to the nondevelopment of the disease. In conclusion, our results demonstrate that the TLR4-IRF1 pathway culminates in IFN-β production as a mechanism for dampening the chronic inflammatory process and preventing immunopathology development.